by Craig Young

One-chew-tree-faw! The Ramones are a band that need no introduction. They were ground zero for punk, refining the sonic attitude of the MC5 and the Stooges and mixing it with the bubblegum pop of early '60s bands like the Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. The result: Highly charged angst and aggression tempered and fitted around the catchiest of pop stylings. With brilliant melodies mated to deviant lyrics, such songs as "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Beat on the Brat," and "53rd & 3rd" epitomized the disaffected youth of the '70s. Three chords, four leather jackets...the Ramones were the shot heard 'round the world; a loud fuck-all to the bloated excess of the "Me Generation" and all the Eagles, Genesis, Styx, Journeys and Foreigners that we had (and still have) to endure. Oh yeah, let's not forget disco.

For their twenty-two years as brothers-in-arms, the Ramones proved that it just takes attitude and determination to make a difference. They reinvented the musical wheel without reinventing themselves or forgetting what it was that made them what they were. More importantly, they never forgot who it was that stuck by them through thick and thin: their fans. A stronger loyalty is hard found. In July of 1976, on their first tour of England, the Ramones were welcomed as heroes by the burgeoning U.K. punk scene. Chrissie Hynde, the Sex Pistols, members of what would be the Damned and the Clash--and probably every kid who was part of the U.K. punk explosion--turned out for these shows to see their heroes. At one point, guitarist Johnny Ramone (born John Cummings) recalls members of the Clash approaching him, saying they were still rehearsing because they didn't feel comfortable enough yet with their musical chops to start performing. "Are you kidding?" Johnny said. "We can't play. If you wait until you can play, you'll be too old to get up there. We stink, really. But it's great."

[ johnny, dee dee, tommy, joey - the brothers ramone ]

Twenty-five years after they formed, the Ramones' influence is still felt both far and wide; from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, to probably every kid who owns a Marshall stack...chances are they all have Ramones albums stashed in their collection, can readily recite the words to "Beat on the Brat," and if asked, would name the Ramones as one of their top musical influences. Personally, I cannot recall a time in my life where the Ramones' music wasn't involved on some level. Sire Records President (and original Ramones fan) Howie Stein summed them up best: "To me, what was great about the Ramones was that they were like the Johnny Appleseeds of the whole movement. Wherever they would go, a new scene would start. That was what I really loved about them."

On the eve of the release of Rhino Records' Hey Ho Let's Go!--Ramones Anthology (whose fifty-eight songs and accompanying eighty page booklet is probably the definitive retrospective on the band's twenty-two year career) I had the honor of talking with Johnny Ramone. As I was putting together the questions for the interview, I was repeatedly nagged by an overwhelming one: What do you ask the Ramones that they have not already been asked and have answered a million times before? So, as a fan, my first question was instead a statement.

[ the shot heard 'round the world ]

Thank you. Thank you for the music and thank you for being the Ramones.

Johnny Ramone: Great! Thank you.

Twenty-two years, eighteen albums... Let's see... two thousand two hundred and sixty-three shows, probably several hundred guitar strings and a few blown amps along the way...

Johnny: Very few broken guitar strings! Very few. I went five years without breaking a string. It just looked like I was strumming hard!

Do you miss the band much, do you miss playing for your fans?

Johnny: Oh, of course! Of course. I knew that before I stopped. I knew just from a life of seeing how hard it was for athletes to tear themselves from the sports; how bands never stop, they always go on until they break up and then as individuals they continue on. I knew this thinking that when it comes time to stop it was going to be difficult, having seen how other people went through it. But there's got to be more to life, you've got to get on with your life. You can't just keep getting up there playing and not perform at the level that kids have come to expect.

[ johnny ramone back in the day ]

I knew twenty-two years was already stretching it. Going into it I always felt that a band does what they're going to do musically and make their impact on the music world in a five year period. After that you're just basically going along with things.

In Jim Bessman's book, Ramones: An American Band, you were quoted as saying: "I've always felt that [bands] who changed, changed for the worse."

Johnny: Yeah. Not very many bands were able to change. The Beatles were able to continue to change from year to year and still be great, but I notice that most of the bands who have changed I haven't ended up liking any more.

Well, so in a business whose sound and direction changes on the turn of a dime, how does it feel to have had such an impact by not changing at all?

Johnny: I felt from the start that the closer we stuck to what we were doing, the better off we would be. I mean, we have all these examples to go by before us; things to learn from. There's so much to learn from seeing bands live, seeing how people try to keep up with time. How it becomes lame when you see a band like the Rolling Stones try to change with each different change with society, changes within the band. You can't keep up with trends. You have to stick with what you're doing, because whenever you get onto a trend you're already late. If Elvis would have continued with the same image he had from the Fifties, you know, he would have been fine. It was when he started getting into the Las Vegas image and started wearing capes and jumpsuits that we started looking at him differently. Later on in the Seventies when he started gaining weight and with the outfits he was wearing, that's when all the jokes started. If he would have stayed in shape and kept doing the original songs... Even with his comeback in 1968, even that image with the leather suit was fine.

[ joey on the cover of punk magazine ]

As someone who tried hard not to be influenced by anyone else, how does it feel to know you've influenced an entire generation of punk rock upstarts?

Johnny: Heh heh heh!

I mean, everybody... You had an enormous influence on the Clash and the Sex Pistols during your first tour of England in '76, back before they were even proper bands. And up through today with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and probably every kid who has a Marshall stack in his basement and three chords under his belt.

Johnny: You know... I mean, back in '76 we were aware that we were influencing bands, that we were important. But from the late '70s throughout the '80s I stayed so isolated and didn't communicate at all with any band. I wasn't aware of this, I had forgotten about these other people. We just had our Ramones fans and that was it. I did not know that we were influencing these other bands until the '90s and playing with Soundgarden in Australia. That was the first contact I'd had with another band--or been friends with someone in a band--and got to see that we actually mattered to these kids, that they grew up on us. And it felt good.

It had to be a real feeling of pride.

Johnny: Oh, it did! They'd say, "I can't believe you never realized that!" And I didn't. I stayed so isolated...I never knew anyone in a band, I never had one friend in a band. Now, most of my friends are Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

[ soundgarden - big ramones fans ]

Have you picked up the guitar since the Ramones disbanded?

Johnny: Well, I played a Ramones song with Pearl Jam when they played L.A.

When was that?

Johnny: Uh...maybe six months ago. When was the last tour they were on? Not often, right...

How did it feel to be back up onstage in front of a crowd?

Johnny: It was nervous. I was never nervous in the Ramones because I knew the crowd was there because they liked you. But playing for Pearl Jam's audience...I didn't know if they were going to like it.

What song was it that you played?

Johnny: We did "The KKK Took My Baby Away." Jim Carrey was on the side of the stage and he kept making jokes and making faces. [chuckles] That helped a little bit.

[ even comedian jim carrey counts himself as a ramones fan ]

1  2  3  Next->

[ profiles ]
[ cool by proxy ]
[ central scrutinizer ]
[ album reviews ]
[ there's no place like home ][ there's no place like home ][ there's no place like home ] [ live reviews ]
[ noise control ]
[ links ]
[ back issues ]